RoseAnn Howard delivered a sigh-worthy statement at Meeting Professionals International's 2002 World Education Congress in Toronto, Ontario: “We've had no meeting cancellations,” said Howard, director of meetings and events for Yum! Brands Inc. “In fact, we've increased the number of our meetings. They're vital to our business.”

Still, the industry has seen extraordinary change in the past year. Meetings are as important as ever, but how, when, and why they're being held is different. Change is the new norm.

“The past may be a poor predictor of the future of our industry,” said Christine Duffy, president and COO, McGettigan Partners, who moderated a State of the Industry panel discussion heard by some of the 2,900 attendees at the July conference. The panelists included experts from the airline, hotel, and security industries, who tried to put the last year into perspective.

“We're calling it ‘The Perfect Storm,’” said Daniel Walsh, vice president of North American sales, United Airlines. A combination of 9/11 and the stumbling economy drop-kicked the airline industry, which Walsh expects to lose a combined $4 billion in 2002. Passengers, however, have enjoyed a buyer's market. Prices are down and will remain so for the foreseeable future, he predicted.

The hotel industry, too, took a hit. After a banner year in 2000, Q4 2001 saw a 35 percent decrease in revenue performance. “It was unprecedented,” said David Johnson, executive VP and chief marketing officer for Wyndham International. Things are looking up, though, and 2003 is giving off encouraging signs. “Lead times have shrunk, and tentative business is increasing,” he said.

Other Trends

Big topics among planners in 2002: technology, outsourcing, consolidation, the buyer's market, air travel, and security. Other trends:

  • Attrition is on everyone's mind, said Duffy, since booking outside the block, mainly using discount Web sites, continues to rise. (See related story, page 80.)

  • Corporations continue to rein in travel costs. Seventy-four percent are implementing new measures to reduce travel expenditures. They're doing this by booking discount airlines, chartering planes, booking online, and shortening trips.

  • Concerns about perception are growing. Businesses going through rough economic times don't want to end up on the front page by meeting at lavish resorts — even if they pay the same for a second-tier destination.